In Carrzulm, promotions come through the assassin’s blade.
– The Proverbs of Shedey’uwr
The Knights huddled around the unconscious ranger anxiously as Aaren worked to bring her back around. “Give me some room,” he growled irritably as someone jostled his elbow. “I can’t work with all of you crowding me like this, back off.” He applied a wet rag to Mira’s forehead and squeezed it, dribbling water over her face. She shook her head and batted feebly at him.
“Come on Mira, wake up,” he said gently.
Her eyes fluttered and she squinted up at him. “Huh?”
“Wake up,” he repeated.
“What are you talking about? I’m fine.”
“Sure you are. Then why did you pass out?”
“I didn’t,” she protested crossly. “I’m just . . .” She paused as her memory returned. “Oh.”
Katrina nodded from over Aaren’s shoulder.“That’s better, now you remember. Do you mind telling us what happened? We’re standing around talking and all of a sudden you’re flat on the ground. You had us worried.”
Mira sat up, pushing Aaren’s supporting arm away. She looked around at them. “We’re not going to Heraup. We’ll just have to limp along with the Sky Hawk the way it is.” She stood up and brushed herself off, ignoring the befuddlement her statement caused.
Jon shook his head. “The Sky Hawk isn’t going anywhere. You know all the damage she’s sustained.”
“We’ll patch it together ourselves,” she said forcefully.
Beorn opened his mouth to speak then thought better of it. He retreated to a nearby rock and sat down with his pipe.
Mira tried to gather them all up with her eyes and lead them back to the ship as if it were a foregone conclusion. “Come on, let’s go.”
No one moved.
Her lips tightened in anger. “I said, let’s go!”
Jon shook his head again. “We can’t go. What’s wrong with you?”
“She’s still groggy from passing out,” Katrina rushed to answer him. “That’s why she’s acting so weird.”
“I am not groggy,” the slender ranger snarled, “and I’m not acting weird. Now let’s go!”
Elric shot a concerned glance at Aaren. “What her problem?” he muttered.
Aaren shook his head silently.
“Well if you’re not groggy, then what’s your problem?” Katrina snapped at her, echoing Elric’s unheard question.
“There’s nothing wrong with me. If there was, Aaren could heal it.” She crossed her arms stubbornly. Although she gave a good impression of being the immovable object, Horace did an even better impression of being the irresistible force. He picked her up by the elbows lifting her until she was eye-to-eye with him. “There are all kinds of things wrong with you. You’re acting like the south end of a north-going mule. Now, what’s going on?”
“Put me down!”
“Answer the question.”
“Put me down!”
“Answer his question!” Aaren’s voice cracked like a whip and Mira visibly flinched.
“You too?” she gasped.
Aaren nodded and Elric’s voice behind him added, “And me.”
She sagged in Horace’s grip as it became clear all of them were against her. “I can’t go to Heraup,” she said slowly. “We’d be working with lizard men like the ones that killed my mother . . . and I can’t do that . . . I just . . . can’t.” She met their eyes hesitantly, fearful of the condemnation she thought they would show. To her surprise, she saw only sorrow and heartfelt sympathy.
“Why didn’t you say so?” Horace told her gruffly, putting her down. “Why all the fuss?”
“Yeah,” Jon added. “If you’d have just told us it would have saved us a lot of trouble just now. We’ll make sure that somebody else does all the talking with them. That way you don’t have to work with them.” Murmurs of agreement sounded on all sides.
Mira looked at them in astonishment. “You mean you still want to go?”
Aaren gave her a puzzled look. “We have to, Mira. We need the money for the repairs.”
“But I can’t!” she exclaimed. “Didn’t you hear what I told you?”
“We heard you,” Katrina assured her. “But you didn’t hear us. Jon said you don't have to work with the lizard men, we will.”
“You still don’t understand!” Mira protested wildly. “I’ve sworn to kill any lizard man I meet on sight! Any lizard man!”
They frowned at that.
“Well, you’ll have to make an exception for these lizard men,” Aaren told her. “But Beorn says they’re not like the ones back home so it’s not much of an exception.”
“That’s right,” Elric chimed in. “They’re smarter and more civilized. They’re not even called lizard men, they’re sauroids.”
“But they’re still lizard men!” she screamed at them.
Jon was starting to lose patience with her. “Look,” he waited until he had everyone’s attention, “we’re not getting anywhere this way. The Sky Hawk is beat to pieces and we need money for the repairs. We can either go to Heraup or try our luck somewhere else.” Beorn snorted in the background to let them know what he thought of their chances. Jon nodded at him, “My feelings as well. But let’s take a vote and see what happens. How about it? If we take a vote will everyone go along with it?”
“Everyone?” Mira sneered sarcastically. “You mean me, don’t you?”
“I mean everyone,” he said firmly. “How about it? Is everyone agreed?”
“Sure,” Horace shrugged. Katrina and Elric nodded silently, and Aaren, glad to avoid a confrontation with the woman he loved, nodded too.
“Everyone in favor of going to Heraup?”
Five hands silently went up.
“All opposed?” Mira glared at him in icy silence. “All opposed?” he repeated.
Mira bit off her words slowly and precisely. “I did not agree to this . . . and we are not going!” She turned on her heel and disappeared into the tunnel back to Beorn’s office.
Silence reigned for a time.
At last, Beorn slapped his knees and got up from his rock. “Well, I have work ta do. Let me know what ye decide.” He turned to follow Mira down the tunnel to his office but Aaren’s voice stopped him.
“We’ve decided to take the job.”
Beorn grunted in surprise. “But yer Lady just said no.”
“She’s only one out of six. I love her but I’m not blinded by it. We’re going.”
Several eyebrows went up.
Beorn studied him intently for a minute then nodded. “Very well. I’ll have me men bring da Wanderer down to da main dock and outfitted fer da trip.”
“Fine.” The priest’s voice was dull and flat. “We have everything we need if your men can have the Wanderer ready by tomorrow morning.” The dwarf nodded and Aaren continued, “Then we should get back to the Sky Hawk and get our gear. We’ll be ready at first light.”
“What about Mira?” Katrina asked hesitantly.
Aaren fixed her with a cold stare. “One voted to let the past overwhelm the present. But five of us voted to go, and we’re going.”
Marak and Taanen were sitting under the shade of an awning they’d set up when Mira came back alone, her face stormy. She stalked down the long wharf, ignoring the bustling activity going on around her, forcing the hurrying workers to detour around her. She mounted the Sky Hawk’s gangplank and vanished inside.
The two men watched her angry progress with interest. “An intriguing development,” Marak commented. “I wonder what brought that on?”
Taanen shook his head silently.
“We’ll have to keep an eye on things,” Marak continued. “If there’s been some kind of split in their group, we should foster it, it’ll make it easier for us.”
“Aye,” Taanen nodded slowly. “But what about Garrick? Each day that passes, he’s more their man and less ours.”
Marak waved it off. “Don’t worry about him. My ‘toy’ will take care of him if need be.”
“Ah, I’d forgotten.”
“That’s why I’m the master and you’re the servant,” Marak snorted.
Anger flared in Taanen’s eyes for a moment, then was quickly suppressed. Marak was watching the workers and didn’t see it. If he had, he would have recoiled as if he’d suddenly been confronted with a deadly viper.
“Stick close to her,” he said, unmindful of his danger. “Talk to her, find out why she’s angry, and fan the flames if you can. But carefully, very carefully. I want them strong enough to rescue Illene, but weak enough for me to kill them afterward.”
“Yes, Master,” Taanen said uncertainly.
Marak heard the questioning tone in his voice and smiled at him. It wasn’t a nice smile. “Divide and conquer, Taanen, divide and conquer. It’s the oldest strategy in the world.”